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This Thursday, Sydney-siders are invited to set loose on the dance floor for an important cause. Organised by the CorriLee Foundation, Dancing For Dignity will raise much needed support for Dying With Dignity NSW. Sarah Edelman, CEO of DWD NSW, explained exactly what they do:

“We are an advocacy organisation and our aim is to bring about legislative change so that people who are suffering from a terminal or incurable illness, and who have unrelievable suffering, will be able to access medical assistance to end their lives peacefully and at a time of their choosing.”

State governments consistently refused to pass laws to legalise voluntary assisted dying. Dying With Dignity may deal with an issue that many of us don’t want to think about, but that hardly means that Dancing For Dignity will be a glum affair. Rather, it will be a celebration of life and personal advocacy.

An eclectic bunch of entertainers and speakers will ensure that Dancing For Dignity is a fabulous night out – including Andrew Denton, Mikey Robins, John Bell and the Groove Academy.

Veteran DJ Scott Pullen will be joined by the seven-piece Groove Academy band to keep party patrons of all generations dancing into the evening with covers and remixes of iconic songs “whether it might be a new house track or an old disco track”.

“It’s really exciting being on stage performing with a whole bunch of talented musicians and singers – we create magic, we really do,” he said, ruefully.

But Pullen was drawn to this event for a much more personal reason than the opportunity to entertain alone. Pullen’s long time friend Tanya Lee – the “force of nature” behind the CorriLee Foundation – initially invited him to talk about “this crazy idea for a fundraiser”, and proceeded to tell him about her grandmother Corrie who had been battling illness and suffering for some time, and who simply wanted to “die with dignity”.

Floored, Pullen shared the story of his sister, a vibrant young woman who was struck by an unrelieveable illness. “Before she was bed ridden she ended up travelling the world and doing everything she wanted to do” before choosing to self-deliver in a country where the laws allowed her that right.

“When Tanya Lee invited me to come and speak she had no idea… we decided, we gotta do this fundraiser,” added Pullen.

Various opinion polls show that a vast majority of the Australian population support assisted death. “The problem is that most of that support is passive rather than passionate and active,” added Sarah Edelman.

Bills to change Australia’s euthanasia law have been brought virtually to every state parliament over the past two years and have been defeated.

“The last [bill] in NSW was in May 2013, and that was defeated due to what politicians call a conscience vote,” explained Edelman. “We know that the Liberals and the Nationals vote as a block to oppose the law. It defies credibility that when you’ve got between 70 and 85 per-cent of the population supporting legislative change that you’ve got zero per-cent of [these major parties] willing to support those changes… what they label as a conscience vote is actually a farce.”

“The real underlying issue is that there are religious groups that represent only a small minority of the population that have a huge amount of influence… and most politicians don’t want to antagonise or get them off side and so they prefer to really not deal with the issues at all.”

The main arguments used to oppose assisted dying claim that “there’s not enough safeguards” and vulnerable groups such as the involuntary and the elderly will be targeted.

“We know from monitoring what happens in those countries [where assisted dying has been legalised] that the fear campaigns are not supported by the reality, we know that the laws work well and safely… we know there’s no evidence of any sort of abuse of the law,” said Edelman.

Andrew Denton entered the debate last year with the podcast series Better Off Dead, which he will be talking about at Dancing For Dignity. He will share stories from as far afield as the Netherlands, to palliative care workers in Australia.

“[Denton] spent a year overseas travelling to countries where assisted dying is legal, interviewing the doctors, various patients, disability groups, groups that it was claimed would be vulnerable [or] targeted… and he spoke to people who absolutely denied that they were under any pressure or that the laws weren’t working well,” explained Edelman.

“Since Andrew Denton entered the debate is has really engaged the public like never before… It’s really interesting how one person can engage large numbers of Australians to start thinking about this issue,” added Edelman.

Comedian Mikey Robins will also be making an appearance. Putting his presenting skills to good use, Robins will be auctioneering on the night, raising valuable funds for DWD by selling off items including photographs from “Australia’s greatest rock n’ roll photographer” Tony Mott.

“It’s really daggy, [but] I really like doing auctions, it’s a bit of fun… it has built-in melodrama,” Robins added.

Robins said he is most looking forward to premiere Jeff Duff performing songs from his David Bowie tribute show, Bowie Unzipped. “I mean, Jeff’s so good that when Bowie was in the country they were friends,” he added.

Just as important as the fundraising aspect, Dancing For Dignity is helping to spread awareness and mobilise change.

“Everyone in their lives… the time will come when someone close to you may be dying and may be suffering a lot… and they would more than likely prefer the option to be able to die with dignity than to continue living and suffering… it’s something that really touches everyone and I think we need to work on changing the legislation in this country,” said Scott Pullen.

The push for assisted dying legislation is not a plight to push vulnerable people over the edge, but rather to give people who are suffering the option for a dignified, “happy” death.

“When I think of my sister now I don’t get sad,” said Pullen. “She sent me little tokens [from her travels], like a little miniature Day of the Dead doll [from Mexico]… I have a little chuckle every time I look at it.” (AM)

DANCING FOR DIGNITY
April 14, 7.30pm-midnight. Upstairs Beresford, first floor, 354 Bourke St, Surry Hills. $65 (includes canapés and a glass of Sirromet Premium Vintage Sparkling on arrival). Tickets & info:
moshtix.com.au or corrileefoundation.org/events

Dying With Dignity NSW
For more information on DWD’s actions and how to get involved visit dwdnsw.org.au

Better Off Dead
You can find Andrew Denton’s podcast series at dwdnsw.org.au or wheelercentre.com

The Groove Academy
Scott Pullen and The Groove Academy have just started a Friday night residency at Ivy. For more info visit thegrooveacademy.com.au